September 1st – at Denver                        Colorado 41, No. 24 Colorado State 14

For a change, it was Colorado who seized early momentum in a big game.

Junior cornerback Donald Strickland returned an interception for a touchdown in the first minute of play to set the tone as the Colorado dominated No. 24 Colorado State, 41-14.

Playing before 75,022 at the new Invesco Field at Mile High, the Buffs’ secondary, which had given up big plays to the Rams in two consecutive losses, came up with four interceptions on the afternoon, returning two for scores.  “They got a brief glimpse of the defense you are going to see this season,” said Strickland.

To compliment a dominating defense, the CU offense clicked on all cylinders.

Bobby Purify and Chris Brown both rushed for career highs, leading the Buffs to over 300 yards of rushing offense for the first time in almost six seasons.  Purify put up 191 yards alone, including an 18-yard scoring run in the first quarter to put the Buffs up 14-0.  Brown contributed 121 yards and two short-yardage scores.  With the Buffs crunching out 315 yards of rushing offense, quarterback Craig Ochs only had to be efficient in the passing game, and he was, connecting on 15 of his 18 passes.

CSU did make an attempt to make a game of it after Purify put the Buffs up by two scores in the first quarter, as H-back Joel Dreessen scored on a three yard pass from quarterback D.J. Busch to cut the CU lead to 14-7.  The Rams would not score again until the fourth quarter, however, as the Buffs scored 17 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.

After Jeremy Flores hit a 21-yard field goal to give the Buffs a 17-7 halftime edge, senior safety Michael Lewis intercepted a Busch pass and returned it 41 yards for a score midway through the third quarter.  The first of two Chris Brown one-yard scoring plunges gave the Buffs an insurmountable 31-7 lead late in the third.

The convincing win gave the Buffs some much needed breathing space.

After a week of heavy criticism, CU players and coaches were ready to move on.  “Coach (Barnett) did a great job of getting them ready over as hard of circumstances as you could ever imagine,” said Tom McMahon, co-defensive coordinator.  “Everybody’s making this a ‘job game’, for crying out loud.  It’s the second damn game of the season.”

Safety Robbie Robinson revealed some of the players’ frustration with the media, when, in the post-game locker room, he yelled toward reporters, “What are y’all going to write about now?”  Senior offensive tackle Victor Rogers summed up his feelings with a sigh, “I feel like for at least the next 48 hours, the weight of the world is off of my shoulders.”

The schedule did seem to offer the Buffs a chance to catch their collective breath.

San Jose State was coming to Boulder as a heavy underdog.  The Spartans, 21-10 losers to USC in their season opener, were not highly regarded.  Still, SJSU had gone 7-5 in 2000, and did have Deonce Whittaker at their disposal.  Whittaker, a senior running back, had rushed for 1,628 yards in 2000, and had led the nation with a 7.0/attempt average.  The Buffs would have to contain Whittaker if they were to build on the dominant performance against CSU.


The celebration was unusual.

As we filed out of Invesco Field at  Mile High, participants in the first-ever game that mattered at the new Bronco stadium (there had already been a concert and a Bronco pre-season game), engaged in celebratory whoops and cheers.  Occasionally, someone would break out in the CU fight song, and the “fight, fight, fight” finish reverberated through the metal and concrete.

It felt good.  With a big win, celebration was to be expected.

Still, it was different.

It was not a “tear down the goalposts” type of win.  It was a big win, an impressive win, but what it was mostly was a needed win.  There was joy, but what I felt mostly as we walked out of the stadium was a profound sense of relief.  Maybe things weren’t going to be so bad, after all.  The Buffs had had losing records two of the last four seasons.  Sure, they were the only two losing seasons in the past 17 years, but there they were.  The stunning loss to Fresno State reeked of mediocrity.  The Buffs, even with the win over CSU, were only 11-15 under Gary Barnett.

Since the start of the 1997 season, the overall mark for the University of Colorado football program stood at 24-24.  Hardly the stuff of legend.

Putting up with tough losses to Nebraska was one thing.  Putting up with losses to CSU was unacceptable.

Colorado was the state’s representative in the college football world, not Colorado State.  Yet it was the Rams who came into the game with the national ranking and a 10-2 2000 campaign.  Buff fans, myself included, wanted to believe in “Return to Dominance”, but there had to be some evidence of a turnaround on the field.  The CSU game gave the Buff faithful a glimmer of the possibilities.

The Buffs had routed the Rams, and, for at least a week, the naysayers had to leave the program alone.  Barnett, when asked if he was satisfied with the big win over CSU, said, “Sometimes, coaches are more relieved than they are satisfied,” concluding, “It wasn’t a perfect game, but the outcome was.”

The program had let out a sigh of relief after the CSU game.

Now the question became: Could the Buffs build on the big win?

Game Notes:

– CSU came into the 2001 game with a two-game winning streak in the series. The last time the Rams won three consecutive games in the series was 1931-33.

– The last time prior to the CSU game when the Buffs posted 300 yards rushing was back in 1995 (326 v. Iowa State, 11/21/95), though CU did have 347 yards rushing in the Insight Bowl win over Boston College, 12/31/99.

– The CSU game also matched the 62-38 win over Boston College on another front. The Insight Bowl represented the last time the Buffs had two interceptions returned for a touchdown in the same game (Rashidi Barnes and Jashon Sykes).

– Craig Ochs’ 83.3 completion percentage (15-of-18) was the 2nd-best all-time in games with over 15 passes, second only to Kordell Stewart’s .941 percentage against Baylor (16-of-17 on 9/12/92).

– Colorado State would go on to post a 6-5 regular season record in 2001, including a 5-2 record in the Mountain West Conference play. The Rams were invited to the New Orleans Bowl, where CSU beat North Texas, 45-20, to finish with a 7-5 record.

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